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What the Greatest Preachers Recognize

Apr 25, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

bible-reading-christian-stock-image“Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful word. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, “This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!” Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.”

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (p. 82).

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Heaven Lies Flat in Thee

Apr 24, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

the_holy_bibleHad to find my copy of George Herbert’s poems today to check a citation in a manuscript, and as often happens when I open up this collection of beauties, I couldn’t put it down without reading beyond my duty. Here’s one of my favorites called “The Holy Scriptures”:

I.

OH Book! infinite sweetnesse! let my heart
Suck ev’ry letter, and a hony gain,
Precious for any grief in any part;
To cleare the breast, to mollifie all pain.

Thou art all health, health thriving till it make
A full eternitie: thou art a masse
Of strange delights, where we may wish & take.
Ladies, look here; this is the thankfull glasse,

That mends the lookers eyes: this is the well
That washes what it shows. Who can indeare
Thy praise too much? thou art heav’ns Lidger here,
Working against the states of death and hell.

Thou art joyes handsell: heav’n lies flat in thee,
Subject to ev’ry mounters bended knee.

I I.

OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
And the configurations of their glorie!
Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:

Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.

Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

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“Heaven is Taking Over. Yield.”

Apr 24, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

colorful-dusk-sky-above-the-field-14974“We are not just ordinary. Nothing is just ordinary. ‘The whole earth is full of his glory.’ We keep trying to fill it with monuments to our own glory — kingdoms, businesses, hit songs, athletic victories, and other mechanisms of self-salvation. But the truth is better than all that. Created reality is a continuous explosion of the glory of God. And history is the drama of his grace awakening in us dead sinners eyes to see and taste to enjoy and courage to obey.

“Do you realize that it is God’s will to make this earth into an extension of his throne room in Heaven? Do you realize that it is God’s will for his kingdom of glory to come into your life and for his will to be done in you as it is done in Heaven? Heaven is expanding, spreading in your direction.

“That is the meaning of existence, if you will accept it and enter in.

“Heaven is taking over. Yield.”

– Ray Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preaching the Word Commentary: Crossway, 2005).

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The Christian Life is Going to God

Apr 23, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Pilgrims-Progress“The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.

“The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life. We know the truth of Luther’s hymn: ‘And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for Lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.’ We Christians believe that life is created and shaped by God and that the life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God’s grace and love are experienced.”

– Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (IVP, 1980), 40-41.

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How Do You Know You’re Repentant?

Apr 23, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

tears-of-repentanceHow do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance:

“A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships.” (p. 72)

These are good indicators, and I believe we can add a few more.

Here are 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart:

1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it, and further, we demonstrate “godly sorrow,” which is to say, a grief chiefly about the sin itself, not just a grief about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of sin.

2. We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.

3. If found out, we confess immediately or very soon after and “come clean,” rather than having to have the full truth coaxed out of us. Real repentance is typically accompanied by transparency.

4. We have a willingness and eagerness to make amends. We will do whatever it takes to make things right and to demonstrate we have changed.

5. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized, spending as much time as is required listening to them without jumping to defend ourselves.

6. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized as they process their hurt, and we don’t pressure them or “guilt” them into forgiving us.

7. We are willing to confess our sin even in the face of serious consequences (including undergoing church discipline, having to go to jail, or having a spouse leave us).

8. We may grieve the consequences of our sin but we do not bristle under them or resent them. We understand that sometimes our sin causes great damage to others that is not healed in the short term (or perhaps ever this side of heaven).

9. If our sin involves addiction or a pattern of behavior, we do not neglect to seek help with a counselor, a solid twelve-step program, or even a rehabilitation center.

10. We don’t resent gracious accountability, pastoral rebuke, or church discipline.

11. We seek our comfort in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not simply in being free of the consequences of our sin.

12. We are humble and teachable.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

– 2 Corinthians 7:9-11

(I have put my signs in the first person plural not because it is always inappropriate to seek to gauge someone’s repentance, but because we should always be gauging our own first, and because the truly forgiving heart is interested in an offender’s repentance but isn’t inordinately set on holding up measuring sticks but holding out grace.)

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Introducing For The Church

Apr 22, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 9.35.38 AMIt’s my great pleasure to introduce to you For The Church (ftc.co), a new gospel-centered resource site from Midwestern Seminary. I have had the privilege of seeing months of collaboration from our team at Midwestern and our contributors from all over the country (and the world) culminate in this promising venture. We know that today you have quite a few good options for good news in the Christian blogosphere, but since we don’t think anyone can have too much gospel, we hope FTC will become a nice complement to your daily blog reading.

FTC Website Intro from Midwestern Seminary on Vimeo.

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10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know

Apr 21, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Spiritual-Dating1. It’s not bad to want to have sex with your significant other. It’d be another sort of worry if you didn’t. The key is to want to glorify Christ more than you want to have sex with each other.

2. The key to glorifying Christ more than you want to have sex with each other is that it is a decision to be made over and over again.

3. Persons in a dating or courting relationship are on their best behavior. So however they are now, you can expect, over time, for them to get “worse.” As familiarity grows, people let their guards down, become more their true selves. In this way, marriage does not fix bad behavior; if anything, it often gives it freer reign. Ladies, this means that if your boyfriend is controlling, suspicious, verbally condescending or manipulative, he will become more so the longer your relationship goes on. Whatever you are making excuses for or overlooking now will get harder to ignore and more prominent the longer your relationship goes on. By God’s grace, people pursuing Christ can change, but you can’t fix him and marriage itself won’t straighten him out. If he’s rough around the edges now, it’s going to get rougher.

4. Nearly every Christian I know who is married to an unbeliever loves their spouse and does not necessarily regret marrying them, but they have nevertheless experienced deep pain and discontent in their marriage because of this unequal yoking and would now never advise a believer to marry an unbeliever.

5. Assuming you’re special and you’re different and their experiences won’t reflect yours is shortsighted, unwise, and arrogant. The people who love you and are warning/advising you against your relationship might be ignorant fools. Ignorant fools do exist. But odds are better that your parents, your pastor, and your older married friends are wiser than you think.

6. Living together before marriage is a marriage killer.

7. Premarital sex de-incentivizes a young man to grow up, take responsibility, and lead his home and family.

8. Pre-marital sex wounds a young woman’s heart, perhaps imperceptibly at first but undeniably over time, as she trades in covenant benefits without covenant security. This is not the way God designed sex to fulfill us. Never give your body to a man who has not pledged to God his faithfulness to you in covenant marriage, which presupposes an accountability to a local church. In short, don’t give your heart to a man who is not accountable to anybody who provides godly discipline.

9. All of your relationships, including your romantic relationship, are meant to make Jesus look big more than they are meant to provide you personal fulfillment. When we make personal fulfillment our ultimate priority in our relationships, ironically enough, we find ourselves frustratingly unfulfilled.

10. You are loved by God with abundant grace in Christ’s atoning work, and an embrace of this love by faith in Jesus provides Holy Spiritual power and satisfaction to pursue relationships that honor God and thereby maximize your joy.

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Loving Our Authors as Ourselves

Apr 21, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

dabbs-foster-love-reading-thinkstockD.A Carson writes:

I sometimes tell the story of how a few years ago I was teaching an evening course on hermeneutics, a course jointly offered by several of the seminaries in the Chicago area. Not very successfully, I was trying to set out both what could be learned from the new hermeneutic, and where the discipline was likely to lead one astray. In particular, I was insisting that true knowledge is possible, even to finite, culturebound creatures. A doctoral student from another seminary waited patiently through two or three hours of lectures, and then quietly protested that she did not think I was escaping from the dreaded positivism of the nineteenth century. Deeper appreciation for the ambiguities of language, the limits of our understanding, the uniqueness of each individual and the social nature of knowledge would surely drive me to a more positive assessment of the new hermeneutic. I tried to defend my position, but I was quite unable to persuade her.

Finally, in a moment of sheer perversity on my part, I joyfully exclaimed, “Ah, now I think I see what you are saying. You are using delicious irony to affirm the objectivity of truth.”

The lady was not amused. “That is exactly what I am not saying,” she protested with some heat, and she laid out her position again. I clasped my hands in enthusiasm and told her how delighted I was to find someone using irony so cleverly in order to affirm the possibility of objective knowledge. Her answer was more heated, but along the same lines as her first reply. I believe she also accused me of twisting what she was saying.
I told her I thought it was marvelous that she should add emotion to her irony, all to the purpose of exposing the futility of extreme relativism, thereby affirming truth’s objectivity. Not surprisingly, she exploded in real anger, and accused me of a lot of unmentionable things. When she finally cooled down, I said, rather quietly, “But this is how I am reading you.”

Of course, she saw what I was getting at immediately, and sputtered out like a spent candle. She simply did not know what to say. In one sense, of course, my example was artificial, since I only pretended to read her in a certain way. But what I did was sufficient to prove the point I was trying to make to her: “You are a deconstructionist,” I told her, “but you expect me to interpret your words aright. More precisely, you are upset because I seem to be divorcing the meaning I claim to see in your words from your intent. Thus, implicitly you affirm the link between text and authorial intent. I have never read a deconstructionist
who would be pleased if a reviewer misinterpreted his or her work: thus in practice deconstructionists implicitly link their own texts with their own intentions. I simply want the same courtesy extended to Paul.”

– Carson, “The Challenge from Preaching of the Gospel to Pluralism,” in Criswell Theological Review 7.2 (1994), 22-23. Online here (pdf). A version of this text appears in Carson’s book The Gagging of God (102-103).

Debate with this kind of deconstructionist over what a word or passage means is self-defeating for two reasons:

1) If anyone’s interpretation is fair game, then so is yours, and therefore the debate is a non-starter.

2) If you are insistent on authorial intent it puts you in an immediately defensive and rhetorically losing position — barring some trickery, a la Carson’s above — because a deconstructionist interlocutor doesn’t care what you or the author means; they “know” that what you mean and what the author means is what they mean for you to mean. Know what I mean?

Loving God with all our minds and hearts means “loving the author as ourselves,” and surely this means that we should agree that, as we would want others to understand our meaning and not to impose their own interpretation contrary to evidence upon our words, we should afford the same charity to an author in seeking to understand his or hers.

This is true in the interpretation of literature, especially the inspired literature of the Bible, but also in dialogue and debate. Charitable discourse entails interacting with the arguments our opponents are actually making, not the strawmen we’ve conveniently misinterpreted them to be.

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Water for the Weary Pastor

Apr 20, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

clear-water-waterfall-1832On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”
— John 7:37

Monday. What to do with these Mondays of ours?

If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, I know that Mondays for you can be a mixed bag. You may be still glowing from yesterday’s victories — high attendance, vibrant worship, the well-preached sermon and ensuing compliments. Or you might be still smarting from yesterday’s wounds — struggling ministry, sluggish praise, the feeling of not quite delivering that hoped-for homiletical fire. Maybe you’ve heard one complaint too many, too much grumbling. The loyal opposition continues to gossip and nitpick. Maybe your wife or kids are unhappy. Maybe you don’t know how to ask the church’s “powers that be” to help you afford to pay your bills. Or maybe you’re just in a funk, feeling like you’re spinning your wheels and not sure why what you’re doing matters.

Pastors, there is hope for you. The Lord of our God is unrelentingly for you. His affection for you and his approval of you are in no way contingent on you “hitting one out of the park.” His thoughts about you are not shaped by your ministry achievements or lack thereof. He has not gathered his Trinitarian self into the heavenly war room to troubleshoot you.

No, God is not a fan of yours. He’s not a fan of yours, because fans are fickle and turn on you when they get disappointed. Fans tie their feelings to performance. God is not a fan. He’s a friend. You can’t disappoint him, because you can’t surprise him. He sees your bad sermons coming. He has numbered all your days, including your days of feeling a little “off,” before the foundation of the world. He is not put off by your critics and he is not puffed up by your yes-men. He is the great I AM: He is that he is. And he approves of you eternally by the blood of Christ applied to the doorpost of your heart — and to the doorpost of your ministry.

So there is water for you today, whether you push through on these difficult Mondays in the quiet of your study or the busyness of the visitation route or whether you take these Mondays off to recuperate at home. There is water for you at every moment, living water flowing freely from the pierced bosom of Christ. It is water to satisfy your thirsty soul, water to heal your ministry wounds, water to cool your heels, water to cheer your “Monday face.” Don’t look for it anywhere but in Jesus.

Monday. What a great day to come tired and burdened to Jesus and let him help you.

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Jesus, the Gentle Pastor

Apr 16, 2015 | Jared C. Wilson

Jesus__good_Shepherd_by_fenixflowerI still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
— John 16:12

These words of Christ really minister to me. The immediate context is this: Jesus has resurrected and he is issuing warnings and promises to his disciples. He is consoling them about his soon departure, saying he is going to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. He’s going to keep speaking to them, only now through the Holy Spirit, primarily through the Spirit-inspired new covenant Scriptures.

But I love Jesus’ pastoral heart. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus is patient with his people. He plods. He knows how to hand out bread day by day. He doesn’t overcook his sermons like us dumb pastors, thinking we’ve got to hit everybody with everything all at once. He does not “turn on the firehose.” He does not inundate. Of course, Jesus has the benefit of omniscience — he knows how things will play out tomorrow — and we do not. But he is so gentle in this moment.

These words remind me that Jesus is committed to giving me all that I need at the times I need it. It has been said that all our knowledge of God at any given moment is merely a thimble of water compared to the ocean of water available. And yet the thimble is a daily supply, more than enough, just the right amount. Jesus is so good. He knows my limits and condescends to fill them and minister to me within them.

Pastors, take note.

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